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Japanese personal pronouns

The Japanese language has a bulk of personal pronouns with different degree
of politeness, though they are at peripheral place in the language system.
They are not frequently used.
Moreover, there are some holes in the system of Japanese personal
pronouns: it has no 2
nd
person pronoun used to socially higher speakers and
no 3
rd
person pronoun for things and animals.


1. Personal pronouns in the system of the Japanese language

1. 1. Properties

Level of politeness:
1. expressly respectful towards the listener
2. expressly polite in general
3. expressly familiar attitude
4. expressly superior
5. superiority in age

Relationship between speakers; social status of the listener towards the
speaker
1. Superior
2. Familiar = addressee is in the speakers in-group (uchi)
[in contrast to out-group (soto)]
3. Inferior

1.2. Subsystems in the Japanese language.

There are 4 subsystems in Japanese that differ by age and sex of speakers:

1. Older male speakers (45-50 and older)
2. Older female speakers (30 and older)
3. Younger male speakers
4. Younger female speakers

This is the classification made in the end of XX century, whilst the system of
Japanese personal pronouns is continuously changing.
So, these days there are not many speakers of older subsystems, but next
generations could have inherited some features of their speech.

Subsystems differ in number of pronouns.

For example, boku is used only by male speakers

boku mo watashi mo setsuyaku-se-yoo
I and I and economy-VRB-HOR
me(man), and me(women) will be economical
Poster at Tokyos street

One pronoun could have different gradations of meaning among
different subsystems.



There are also differences in usage of pronouns among different social groups
(see jibun, atashi)

Usage of some pronouns is conventionally established (for example, anata as
address to the husband)









1.2.1 Older male speakers

1
st
person pronouns watakushi watashi boku ore washi
expressly respectful towards the
listener + - - - -
expressly polite in general + - - - -
expressly familiar attitude - - + + -
expressly superior - - + + +
superiority in age 0 0 - - +
Intensity - 0 - + +

2
nd
person pronouns
no
pronoun anatasama anata kimi anta omaesan omae kisama
Superior
+ + - - - - - 0
Inferior - - - + + + + 0
Familiar 0 - - + + + + 0
expressly superior - - - + + + + -
expressly familiar attitude - - - + - + - -
expressly rude - - - - + - - +
Intensity 0 0 0 - - - + +


1.2.2. Younger male speakers

1
st
person pronouns watakushi watashi boku ore
expressly respectful towards the listener + + - -
expressly polite in general + + - -
expressly familiar attitude - - - +
expressly superior - - - +
Intensity + - 0 0

2
nd
person pronouns are the same as in previous subsystem minus anatasama



1.2.3. Older female speakers

1st person pronouns watakushi atakushi watashi atashi
expressly respectful towards the
listener + - - -
expressly polite in general + - - -
expressly superior - + - +

2
nd
person pronouns
no
pronoun anatasama anata anta omaesan omae
Superior + + - - - -
Inferior - - + + + +
Familiar 0 - + + + +
expressly familiar attitude - - - + + -
expressly superior - - - - + +
expressly rude - - + + - -


1.2.4. Younger female speakers

1st person pronouns watakushi watashi atashi
expressly respectful towards the
listener + - -
expressly polite in general + - -
expressly familiar - - +

2
nd
person pronouns no pronoun anata anta omaesan omae kimi
Superior + - - - - -
Inferior - + + + + -
Familiar 0 + + + + +
expressly familiar attitude - - + + - +
expressly superior - - - + + -
expressly rude - - + - - -



2. Characteristics of each pronoun

2.1. First person pronouns

In modern Japanese there are 8 1
st
personal pronouns: watakushi, atakushi,
watashi, atashi, washi, boku, ore, jibun, although atakushi, washi and jibun
are becoming old-fashioned.

2.1.1. Watakushi
Used by both men and women
The most polite pronoun
Addressee is in the speakers out-group and socially higher or equal
Frequently used in official conversations

2.1.2. Watashi
Women and Older Male subsystems: widely used in almost every
situation
Younger Male: expressively polite, almost the same as watakushi
Watashi is tending to become neutral female pronoun.

2.1.3. Boku
Male pronoun
Formerly it was rather familiar (Older Male subsystem)
Now it is used in almost every situation that doesnt imply
expressively rude or polite attitude.
Boku is tending to become neutral male pronoun.

2.1.4. Ore
Male pronoun
Addressee is in the speakers in-group and socially lower or equal

2.1.5. Atashi
Female pronoun
Rarely used by younger male speakers
Familiar attitude
In the geishas speech (and also women who work in night club or
something) it can be used in almost every situation.

2.1.6. Washi
Belongs to Older Male subsystem
Old-fashioned
Superiority in age
Long social distance
Expressively rude

2.1.7. Atakushi
Belongs to Older Female subsystem
Old-fashioned
Superiority in age
Addressee is inferior
(female equivalent of washi)

2.1.8. Jibun
Military mans pronouns
Used in official conversations


2.2. Second person pronouns

There are 7 2nd personal pronouns in Japanese: anata, anta, kimi, omae,
kisama, anatasama, omaesan, although anatasama and omaesan are rarely
used and kisama sometimes is considered to be substandard.

2.2.1. Anata
Mostly female pronoun
Formerly it was considered rather polite
Now it is tending to become familiar female pronoun (the same as
male kimi)
In male speakers speech it is becoming less polite and rarely used
(kimi is usual for the same cases of use)
Used to be address to the husband

2.2.2. Anta
Mostly female pronoun
Addressee is in the speakers in-group and socially lower or equal
Male subsystems: more familiar, even rude pronoun

2.2.3. Kimi
Male pronoun
Addressee is in the speakers in-group; expresses familiar attitude
Not used with lower family members (for example, husband speaking
with wife)

2.2.4. Omae
Used by both men and women
More rude than 1-3
Expressly superior
Appropriate only in family: used with lower family members
In other cases shows long social distance

2.2.5. Kisama
Male pronoun
The most rude pronoun
Expresses unfriendly attitude

2.2.6. Anatasama
Old-fashioned
The most polite pronoun
Addressee is socially higher

2.2.7. Omaesan
Old-fashioned
Addressee is in the speakers out-group and socially lower


2.2.8. No pronoun
Etiquette politeness
2
nd
person pronouns are not used when you need to show your politeness,
social etiquette except rare uses of anatasama and uses of anata towards
socially equal or higher people from speakers out-group. What is more, 2
nd

pronouns tend to be omitted, although rude and familiar pronouns are still
used rather frequently. It looks like there are two cases: absence of personal
pronoun is generally polite or neutral whilst rude and familiar pronouns show
special attitude (i.e. they are expressives).


3. Combination of 1
st
and 2
nd
person pronouns and their correlation with
verb forms

There are some principles of combination of personal pronouns with
addressive (polite) or
non-addressive (impolite or with no defined addressee) verb forms.

These are not very strict: there are some conventionally established
exceptions.

There are also some principles of combination 1
st
and 2
nd
pronoun forms.

2
nd
person 1
st
person Verb forms
anata watashi boku atashi addressive and non-
addressive
anta atashi watashi non-addressive
kimi boku watashi ore washi non-addressive
omae ore non-addressive
kisama ore washi non-addressive
anatasama watakushi addressive
omaesan all but watakushi non-addressive
no pronoun watakushi watashi boku
atakushi atashi jibun

addressive













4. Potts's properties

Pottss properties could be applied to Japanese pronouns as well as to
Russian and German, although Japanese pronouns could express much more
gradations of politeness.
Japanese pronouns differ by degree of politeness, so some of them are more
or less expressive than others.
Approximate scale from politest 2
nd
person pronoun to the most rude:
amaesan anata , kimi anta omae kisama
The same for 1
st
person pronouns: watakushi watashi , boku ore atashi
atakushi , washi


4.1. Independence

The propositional content is the same in each case but the expressive setting
the indicated relationship between speaker and addressee is different.

Kisama wa dare da?
you(rude) COP who COP.PRS

Kimi wa dare da?
you(familiar) COP who COP.PRS

However, the pronoun should correspond to the verb forms of the sentence,
although the rules of such combination are not very strict (see paragraph 3).
It's inappropriate to mix polite verb forms and impolite pronouns or the other
way round.

Atashi mo i-ita-I wa yo
I and say-DSD-PRS PRT PRT
I also want to say something! (sister to brother)

?
Watakushi mo i-ita-i wa yo


4.2. Nondisplaceability and perspective-dependence

Kimi wa i-na-katta soo des-u ne
you(familiar) TOP be-NEG-PST EVD COP.ADR-PRS PRT
i. It is said that you werent at home
ii. Im speaking with you familiar

The attitude of pronouns refers to the utterance time, but not to the past.
The attitude is relativized to the speaker.


4.3. Descriptive ineffability
Speakers are never fully satisfied when they paraphrase expressive content
using descriptive, i.e., nonexpressive, terms. When pressed for definitions,
they resort to illustrating where the words would be appropriately used.
As Potts mentioned, it is generally accepted that pronouns of address are
governed by a complex system of conditions on their use, but it is often
unclear how stated rules generalize to new situations. Its also true for
Japanese pronouns, and rules of their use are even more tangled.


4.4. Immediacy
Expressives achieve their intended act simply by being uttered.

For example, using kisama - the most expressive pronoun is similar to using
of such words as bastard
So, it is insult to the listener.


4.5. Repeatability
If a speaker repeatedly uses an expressive item, the effect is generally one of
strengthening the emotive content, rather than one of redundancy.
- challenging property, as well as in the case of Russian and German
pronouns.



5. Bibliography
1. Potts, Christopher. The expressive dimension. 2007
2. Potts, Kawahara. Japanese honorifics as emotive definite descriptions.
2007
3. Annafoe B. M. Cucfera nuuux recfoureuu 1ro u 2ro nuua e
coepereuuor nnouckor nsuke. 1980
4. Annafoe B. M., Apkanuee R. M., Ronnecckan B. H. Teopefueckan
rparrafuka nnouckoro nsuka. 2008